24, 2014 - No. 77
Organize for People's
Defeat the Neo-Liberal Austerity Agenda!
Premier Declares Alberta
"Under New Management"
Defeat the Neo-Liberal Austerity Agenda!
• Premier Declares Alberta
"Under New Management" - Peggy Morton
• Prentice Government Hits
Pause Button on Pension Assault
• Society Must Provide the
Right to Education with a Guarantee - Kevan Hunter
• Oppose the Deregulation,
Privatization and Sellout of Alberta's Electricity - George
Organize for People's
Defeat the Neo-Liberal Austerity Agenda!
Premier Declares Alberta "Under New Management"
Newly installed Alberta Premier Jim Prentice was
sworn in on September 15 and quickly declared that Alberta is "under
new management." His first act was to announce a new cabinet,
discarding those most closely associated with the Redford regime. The
new Ministers of Health and Education are unelected.
Prentice also announced a "transition team" with only one elected
member, his new Minister of Finance Robin Campbell. The others in the
team include the former CEO of Imperial Oil, a former executive of
TransCanada and a corporate lawyer whose profile states he advises
both industry and government on energy
and real estate matters. Prentice then prorogued the Legislature. A new
will now begin on November 17 instead of October 27.
Prentice is wielding his far-reaching prerogative
powers to do away with the veil of democratic
governance. He was installed as Premier after some 17,000 people voted
for the new leader of the PC Party, far less than one per cent of the
Alberta electorate. Unfolding events showed that even the
PC caucus in the Legislature is not in control, much less the PC party.
After 43 years in power in which
membership in the
PC Party was a requirement for doing business, the PC Party itself has
become dysfunctional, a problem not just of the PCs but the entire
cartel party system. Citizens have become depoliticized along with the
public interest while private interests are politicized.
Private monopoly interests such as Imperial Oil/Exxon, Suncor, CNRL,
TransCanada and Enbridge to name a few, as well as the banks with which
they are merged, and the global construction contractors are wielding
political and economic power directly.
The Premier and his cabinet members, but not his
transition team, will have to obtain seats in the Legislature through
by-elections. This does not change the fact that a coup has been
carried out without even the appearance of "free and fair elections."
Prentice acts as if he has engineered a hostile
corporate takeover. It is direct rule by the most powerful monopolies,
through an unelected Premier, unelected Ministers in the key portfolios
of health and education, and a transition team recruited directly from
the executives and directors of the most powerful monopolies.
He has not just fired the old cabinet, which is his prerogative as
Premier, but is essentially firing MLAs as well, who are all going to
take it on the chin "for the good of the Party" because they have no
Prentice is also taking action to remove some of
the most contentious items of the Redford agenda. The PCs thought they
could impose their neo-liberal austerity agenda through force and
violence, but the working class and people militantly defended their
rights. Prentice is now taking action to calm things down
and put a smiling face on the neo-liberal agenda of austerity and
nation-wrecking in order to eliminate the resistance of the working
class and First Nations.
Prentice's agenda is to restructure the state in
the form of the United States of North American Monopolies. He must
strive to line up the working people and their organizations behind the
narrow interests of the monopolies, not for nation-building and the
The opposition parties appear unwilling or unable
to act as a real opposition. Wildrose is making a bit of noise for an
immediate election because this suits its partisan interests. The
Liberals and NDP seem content to nip at the heels of the Prentice
dictatorship but not to alert and engage the polity in discussion
of the significance of the events. The NDP ruminated over the loss of
"experienced" ministers while having nothing to say about what agenda
these ministers implemented while in power. The Liberals made silly
statements about whether the former Edmonton Mayor had been good at
fixing potholes. It is as if there
is no relation whatsoever between form and content, a disconnect used
by Wildrose in particular to hide that it shares the same anti-social,
The concentration of power and smashing of all
forms and system of governance serve the neo-liberal anti-social
agenda. The people, not the political parties, must wield
power. Political power must not represent just a privileged few who
abuse their power to
trample on the rights of all and serve the narrow private interests of
the most powerful.
Prentice Government Hits Pause Button
Fight For Pensions For All!
Public sector workers in Alberta, as across Canada
and for that matter the entire working class, have waged a strong fight
to defend the pensions they have and fight for pensions for all.
Through the Alberta Labour Coalition on Pensions, workers and their
organizations demanded that the Alberta government
scrap Bill 9, the Public Sector
Pension Plans Amendment Act,
2014, and Bill 10, the Employment
Plans Amendment Act, 2014.
The PC government of Jim Prentice announced on
September 18 that the second session of the 28th Legislature would be
prorogued. This means that Bills 9 and 10 die on the order paper.
Prentice also stated that he would not re-introduce the bills when the
Legislature begins a new session on November 17.
At the same time, Prentice sent a "mandate letter"
to Finance Minister Robin Campbell instructing him to "address the competitiveness
of the public sector pension plans and ensure they are sustainable."
The "mandate letter" is a clear signal that the
Prentice government has
not abandoned its assault on public sector pensions.
The previous Redford government tried to justify
Bill 9 as necessary to ensure that pension plans are "sustainable." It
had previously requested the boards governing the plans to address the
issue. The boards responded that they had already taken action to
reduce and eliminate the plans' unfunded liabilities but
the government went ahead anyway with its pension attacks.
Prentice has brought out this overused notion of
"sustainability" and added another code word, "competitiveness."
"Sustainability" and "competitiveness" are to be used to push the
agenda, "pensions for none."
Public sector workers have forced the government
into temporary retreat, but this does not mean that the assault on
pensions is over. The Alberta government will no doubt continue to look
for ways and means to restructure the pension funds to achieve what it
wants. Federal and provincial governments are launching
assault after assault on workers' pensions to eliminate defined benefit
pension plans and security for workers in retirement. Instead, workers
are told to accept savings funds and defined contributions as pensions
and reject the concept of defined benefits.
Even the governments' own experts warn that no
individual or even group savings can guarantee retirement security.
Savings depend on two factors: firstly, sufficient disposable income
while working, which is far from guaranteed, and secondly, working
people depriving themselves of buying goods and services
in the present, which damages both their individual interests and the
Savings including defined contributions as a form
of retirement security also depend on an absence of economic crises or
downturns in the future, which is impossible under the capitalist
system. Only the broad sweep and power of governments to claim value
from the economy can guarantee defined pension
benefits and for this to happen the government must be pro-social and
recognize retirement security as a right.
Bills 9 and 10 are dead. The fight for pensions
and the right to dignity and security in retirement is very much alive.
Let us use this space to go on the offensive. Many workers put forward
proposals in their submissions to the Standing Committee on Alberta's
Economic Future. They spoke with one voice to
say they will not accept dictate, and to demand a real say in
governance. They demanded that the government stop privatizing public
services and restore privatized services as public enterprise.
Many workers called for defined benefit pensions
for all, and that everybody in Canada should be in a defined benefit
pension plan to provide security in retirement for all. How could this
be accomplished? If people are forced to depend on individual or group
savings or defined contributions for their retirement,
this can only give rise to disasters.
Even if workers manage to save, which many cannot,
these "savings" can be gobbled up by the rich and go up in smoke in the
next financial meltdown. All this propaganda about saving for
retirement is harmful, anti-social and in contradiction with the way
the modern economy functions. We live in a socialized
economy where working people work collectively to produce the value on
which everyone and society depends. Pension benefits for retirees do
not come from savings; they come from goods and services produced in
the present by the next generation of workers.
A pro-social alternative would be for government
guaranteed defined pension benefits for all to come out of general
revenue collected from companies based on their gross income. In such a
situation, government, company and individual pension plans would not
be necessary. The government in practice would
guarantee the right of Canadians to defined pension benefits at a
standard of living they attained during their working lives with an
established minimum. Let's discuss!
Education Is a Right!
Society Must Provide the Right to Education
With the start of a new school year, many parents
are raising the issue of the hundreds of dollars per child they must
pay in school fees. School fees are a violation of the right to
education, which must be both free and public. They place a heavy
financial burden on many families and have to go. School fees
are a user fee and an inherently regressive form of taxation, as they
are levied on all parents of school-aged children equally regardless of
ability to pay, with the exception of the very poorest of the poor.
In the Calgary public system, as an example,
parents may have to pay $330 for school busing, $220 for noon-hour
supervision (up to Grade 6), up to $130 for instructional supplies and
materials (such as textbooks and photocopying), totalling as much as
$680 per student. Across the province, school boards collect
an estimated $100 million in school fees. Additional fees are levied
for field trips and programs such as music. Fee waivers exist for
parents below a certain income, and it is board policy that students
cannot be prevented from going on a field trip for lack of ability to
Opposition parties are also taking up this issue.
On September 2, the Wildrose Party launched a petition campaign calling
for the government to prevent school boards from charging fees. The
Alberta NDP also issued a statement calling on government to eliminate
school fees. NDP Education Critic Deron Bilous
provided some context, explaining, "In the absence of stable funding
for Alberta public schools, the government continues to pass its
financial responsibility onto Alberta families and that is not fair."
In contrast, the Wildrose petition takes the issue
of user fees out of context, so as to divert from discussing the
solutions needed to fully fund education. The Wildrose presents itself
as the champion of parents who are increasingly squeezed by recent fee
increases. However, it appears to be of no concern to the
Wildrose Party how the multi-million dollar shortfall is to be made up,
so long as there is less of a burden on "taxpayers."
Education as a cost or burden is a recurring theme
that the working people must reject with contempt. Education of the
younger generation and others throughout their lives is not a cost, but
an investment, which is returned in greater value to the economy and
society. Just imagine how impoverished the country
would be without mass public education.
The Wildrose stand is also hypocritical. When
leader Danielle Smith was a columnist for the Calgary Herald,
she authored a column entitled, "The unreasonable demands of
education." She wrote, "Parents have two options. They can find a way
to live with the resources taxpayers already devote
to education, or they can pay for these extras themselves." Now it
appears she has taken the second option off the table, and parents and
students should simply be left to suffer with an inadequately funded
In Alberta, the power of taxation was removed from
the hands of school boards during the Ralph Klein years. The government
decides how much money to transfer to school boards, and school boards
are put in the position of sorting out how to meet the needs of
students with the increasingly inadequate funding
they receive. Deprived of any real power, they have become
middle-managers for a government that acts on behalf of the most
powerful monopolies, which have their own designs on the wealth created
by the workers and transferred to the government through taxes.
When the Wildrose makes an issue of school fees,
it forms part of a broader agenda of the monopolies to erode further
the power of school boards, leading to their total abolition in favour
of centralized control by the government. Such a move would place
education under the control of the most powerful monopolies,
which salivate at the prospect of increasingly opening up education as
a market for private profit.
A modern, rational discussion of funding for
education would take as its starting point that education is a right
and society must provide the right with a guarantee. Within this
discussion, the suggestion that education is a cost to the economy or
society in general, which should be contained for the benefit of
must be denounced as retrogressive and unscientific. The education
system generates tremendous benefit and value for the entire society,
which requires educated citizens and productive workers with a certain
level of skill for its survival and development. Without a modern
education system and the value teachers
and education workers produce, society would simply collapse.
The issue is not one of taxes at all but how the
value from education is to be exchanged with other sectors and
individual parts of the economy and realized. Other sectors and parts
of the economy are required to exchange the value their workers produce
for the value teachers and education workers produce within
the education sector, and which exists as actual and potential capacity
in educated working people.
In particular, it must be noted that the
monopolies receive enormous benefit from the educated workers they
employ and the research and innovation those workers provide, based in
large measure on the education they have received. The
monopolies must realize the education value they consume through
the work of their employees and stop denying their responsibility to
ensure the public education system is properly funded.
Public Right not Monopoly
Oppose the Deregulation, Privatization and
Sellout of Alberta's Electricity
By the end of 2014, Alberta's main electricity
transmission company, AltaLink, will be completely in the private
hands of U.S. monopoly Berkshire Hathaway (BH), owned by billionaire
Based in Iowa, Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns and
operates approximately 284,000 kilometres of transmission lines in the
United States and owns or contracts more than 28,000 megawatts of
AltaLink is one of Canada's
companies. It operates 11,800 km of transmission lines and 270
substations in Alberta sending energy to about 85 per cent of Albertans.
Seventeen companies supply electricity into the
Alberta transmission grid. Five of those providers, ATCO Power, Enmax,
Capital Power Corporation, TransAlta and TransCanada Corporation,
supply about 80 per cent of the province's generation capacity.
Alberta's transmission grid, owned in sections by companies
such as AltaLink, ATCO Electric, and TransAlta then carries electricity
produced by generating providers to wholesale electricity purchasers or
retailers who in turn sell electricity to customers.
The sale of AltaLink to BH was announced on May
1. AltaLink's previous owner, engineering monopoly SNC-Lavalin, is
selling the company for $3.2 billion. SNC-Lavalin made AltaLink a
fully owned subsidiary in October 2011.
AltaLink took control of the electricity
transmission system from previous owner TransAlta in 2002 following
deregulation. AltaLink was quickly exposed as having close connections
with Alberta's Tory government. The senior VP was also VP of the Tories
for the Calgary region, while another AltaLink executive
was married to the senior official in charge of provincial transmission
ATCO, a monopoly owned by Alberta's powerful
Southern family, also made bids to buy AltaLink from SNC-Lavalin.
ATCO, founded in 1947, delivers electricity in Alberta, Yukon and
Northwest Territories; processes and delivers natural gas in Alberta;
generates electricity; and manufactures modular buildings,
mainly for industrial sites. ATCO Electric serves nearly 220,000
customers in 245 Alberta communities.
An inter-monopoly fight broke out over the control
of AltaLink. The Chair of AltaLink (connected with SNC-Lavalin)
opposed the ATCO bid, stating it would give ATCO "a virtual
100-per-cent control of transmission in Alberta" whereas the takeover
by the giant U.S. monopoly BH would somehow increase
competition. ATCO denied the allegation of complete control and to
curry favour for its own bid used a series of public ads to raise the
issue of foreign control of Alberta's electricity.
The Harper dictatorship through Industry Canada
has already rubber stamped the sale of AltaLink to BH. It still
requires the approval of the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), which
is responsible for regulating electricity in Alberta, but this is
expected to be automatic.
The AUC was created in 2008 out of the Alberta
Energy and Utilities Board. The Board itself was the result of a 1995
of the Public Utilities Board and the Energy Resources and Conservation
Board. The stated responsibility of the AUC is to "regulate the
utilities sector, natural gas and electricity markets to
protect social, economic and environmental interests of Alberta where
competitive market forces do not." The AUC declares itself to be
independent and objective but is widely seen as an arm of the Tory
government, which itself acts as the champion of the monopolies,
In Alberta, the Alberta Electric System Operator
(AESO) is responsible for planning Alberta's transmission system and
the operation of the Alberta Interconnected Electric System (AIES). The
Alberta Minister of Energy appoints the members of AESO's Board.
Self-declared as independent of outside influence,
AESO is overseen by a Board of Directors drawn almost entirely from
industry executives, including Alberta-based energy monopolies such as
TransCanada Corporation, TransAlta, Canadian Turbo, AltaGas, and coal
giant Luscar. The routine claim of independence of these government
boards begs the question:
independent from what, the monopoly controlled economy and politics of
class privilege in which they exist.
The operation of the provincial regulator
service of private monopolies has been an ongoing theme in Alberta. In
2007, a series of corruption scandals on transmission approvals forced
the breakup of the province's energy regulator. The subsequent passage
of Bills 19, 36, and 50 limited public discussion
of transmission issues and concentrated all decision-making in the
Regulation, who decides and who controls those
issues that affect the people's lives and economy have become major
issues regarding the province's plan to build $16.5 billion worth of
transmission lines. The government is thinly disguising the project's
main purpose to export power to the United States. This
plan involves building eight times the existing transmission
infrastructure at public expense with no public assessment of need. The
plan originally included a proposal to give away the infrastructure to
ATCO and AltaLink, along with a promised rate of return of nine per
cent. The energy regulator was exposed as
hiring private investigators, many of them armed, to actively spy on
landowners opposed to the line. Instead of acting in the public
interest, the government reacted to public opposition by lashing out
against it and passed Bill 46 in 2007. The bill struck down a section
of provincial law requiring the government to demonstrate
the need for transmission projects now and in the future.
Until 1995, Alberta's electricity market was
highly regulated, including control of prices. Electricity rates were
set by a central regulator using a cost-of-service model. Under the
Tory government of Ralph Klein, which fraudulently promised lower
prices, Alberta was the first Canadian province to implement a
deregulated electricity market, completed in 2001. This deregulated
system has caused volatility in the price of electricity, kept consumer
prices high, and maximized profits to generating companies. Generating
companies can use such strategies as holding back production to raise
prices. In April 2013, a Fraser Institute
study found that Calgary ranked third and Edmonton fourth in Canada
compared to other cities in terms of high electricity bills, and that
Alberta businesses pay some of the highest electricity prices in North
Benefits from deregulation specifically accrued to
the private oilsands monopolies, which are the most powerful private
entities in Alberta. It boosted the ability of companies to construct
their own power stations to supply both heat and electricity (called
co-generation) for mining and upgrading in Fort McMurray.
Each time another plant is built, the companies generate more
electricity than they can use with co-generation. According to U.S.
energy analysts, some firms produce ten times more power than needed.
The excess electricity from co-generation has
resulted in demands from energy monopolies to build public transmission
lines so they can sell electricity in the U.S. Private projects would
not see a high enough return apparently. An example was a private
project of the big energy infrastructure firm TransCanada,
which did not proceed. TransCanada wanted a multi-billion dollar high
voltage direct current transmission line to export 3,000 MW of
surplus power from Fort McMurray to the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The
province's plan to build $16.5 billion worth of transmission lines or
eight times what now exists
could be seen as fulfilling the request of the energy monopolies at the
expense of the public purse.
A 2010 report by the Oil Sands Developer's Group
cites the province's 2009 Bill 50, the Electric Statutes
Amendment Act, as a critical facilitator to allow power
exports from the province.
The people of Alberta are
now familiar with the
negative effects of the deregulation of electricity. The undermining of
a public authority that is supposed to protect the people's access to a
reliable supply of electricity and other necessary features of a modern
society has served monopoly right. The essence of
Alberta's measures to deregulate electricity, the private
monopolization of all aspects of the energy industry, and the expected
approval of the sell out of ownership of a major part of the
electricity grid to the foreign monopoly Berkshire Hathaway wrecks any
public authority that serves to protect the well-being and
security of Albertans and restrict monopoly right. The challenge people
face is to unite to stop and turn around this anti-social direction of
the Alberta government that puts the demands and narrow private
interests of the global monopolies ahead of Albertans and the public
interest. Upholding public right and restricting
monopoly right are important features of a new direction for Alberta's
economy and politics.
1. TransAlta was founded as Calgary Power in 1911
by a private syndicate that included Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook and R.
B. Bennett, later Prime Minister of Canada.